Hill walkers are being urged to avoid disturbing deer over the Easter holidays because the prolonged winter has exacted a heavy toll on Scotland’s iconic species.
With a return to wintry weather predicted, stalkers are reporting that many deer have been left severely weakened by having their food source cut off and are cautioning against stressing the animals further.
The long winter has seen higher than normal levels of wildlife mortality, with sea creatures washed up on beaches and conservation groups urging the public to help vulnerable song birds survive to breeding time.
Some farmers are reporting difficulties with lambing due to the prolonged winter weather.
Deer have also been hit hard across Scotland’s hills with food buried for months under deep and drifting snow which has then crusted over with hard frost.
In poor weather, deer retreat from the high tops to lower ground for shelter but have not yet returned to the tops in many areas as they are too weak from having food cut off by snow.
Lea McNally, of the Scottish Gameskeepers Association, said: “These have been probably the worst conditions for over a decade for deer. Normally it is harder for them in the west during winter because it is generally wetter.
“However, this is affecting deer all over the high ground in Scotland whether numbers in that area are relatively high or number very few.
“The food source is there, they just can’t get it due to the length of time there has been full snow cover.
“Every winter there is an expected natural mortality but there has been much higher than normal mortality this year.
“Deer are having to expend a lot of energy scraping down through frosted snow to get to food and, in many areas, snow hasn’t lifted for a long time. The deer’s backs have not been dry for months and some calves are barely standing.
“If folk are out and about over Easter, where possible, they should try and give the deer a wide berth so as not to move them out of shelter.
“Disturbances cause deer to move and, if people take care to avoid that, it could make the difference between life and death for weakened animals.
“It would also be prudent for dog walkers to ensure their pets are under close control.”